Thursday, March 19, 2015

Forbes: Duke's Strategy Of Constantly Fouling Is Ruining College Hoops

   I think this has a pretty good chance of being right...though I have to say, we've played MSU a lot, and I've never noticed them using this strategy:
Michigan State and Duke headline the NCAA’s version of Wrestlemania. They are by no means alone but stand as highly visible examples of the problem of college basketball turned wrestling match. Putting the metaphor into tangible terms, the graphic below shows scoring of the median ACC and Big 10 teams from one year before the introduction of the 3-point shot (1985-86 season) to the present. Scoring jumped up with the introduction of the 3-point shot, as intended, there has been a steady decline over the past 20 years as more teams jumped on the hold-grab-bump-chuck defensive bandwagon that reaches an art form at places like Duke and Michigan State. 
How did college basketball get this way? Coaches figured out a simple but powerful idea. If a team fouls 20 times, they may have 20 fouls called on them. If they foul 200 times, they may have about 20 fouls called on them. Of course, teams didn’t jump straight to 200 fouls per game. In the early 1980s, teams like Louisville and Georgetown stepped up their full court pressure with more aggressive traps. Duke followed suit by the late 80s and early 90s with half court defense showcasing a lot of hands and bumps. From these beginnings, teams like Kentucky and Arkansas took fouling to the next level, essentially making it a continuous process, especially with the use of deep benches and interchangeable players. In recent years, Michigan State has refined the bear-hugging, wrestling approach to defense.
   I tend to blame Krzyzewski & co. for this...but I'm tempted to blame the NCAA and the refs more. I mean...it's dishonorable...but if the officials are letting you get away with it...I do understand the view that, so long as you're not hurting anyone, you do what you do to win and leave up to the refs to call it. I certainly don't want the Heels playing like that...but I do understand... And, if this sketch of a timeline is right, then it may just be that K thought: well, others are getting away with it...so we might as well do it, too...
   My own view is that there's another component to K's strategy, and that's the constant snarling at the refs. Every coach works the refs...but K is particularly...passionate...about it. It's hard to ignore that kind of pressure, especially when you're making fast judgment calls like those involved in officiating. If K can reduce the number of fouls called on his team by even 1 more per game than the other coach can, then it's probably a winning strategy (though, again, a dishonorable one...). This might work particularly well in conjunction with the effect described by Goff: it may very well be that what the snarling does is work to make the refs think twice about letting Duke's foul total creep above that of the other team. So the strategy, overall, is to foul a lot more, thus getting those benefits, and raise the psychological cost to the officials of calling fouls on Duke, thus lowering the odds that the refs will have the temerity to violate the call-about-the-same-number-of-fouls-on-each-team principle. (Which, of course, they do violate...it's a tendency, not an inviolable rule...) If such a strategy garners even a few extra points per game, then, given that there seems to be little real cost to it, it would be worthwhile. Though, again, dishonorable...
   I, of course, am not objective about this, however...  Ought to be possible to cast some light on it statistically...

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